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  • Explaining Elitism to Leftists

    Posted by Shannon Love on September 18th, 2008 (All posts by )

    I’ve been thinking about this subject for sometime now. When recent events prompted me to write I spun out over a thousand words on the subject. (I’m rushed, please forgive any typos.) That’s a bit long for a blog post so I’ve split it into a short version here and then the long version in the “Read the Rest…”.

    Short version: Leftists believe that elitism arises from wealth and only from wealth. Non-leftists believe that elitism arises from the belief in an intellectually and morally superior of a minority. Elitists demonstrate their elitism by their lack of respect for the decision-making ability of others. 

    They confuse compassion for their “lessors” with respect for the decision-making ability of those same people. Leftists view themselves as superhuman with the same relationship between themselves and the rest of the population as the relationship between adults and children. Since they have no respect for the decision-making ability or ordinary people, they seek to elect fellow extraordinary people, i.e., supermen, to political office.

    Leftists hate Palin and non-leftists like her for the same reason: She represents a wide swath of Americans. She’s not a superman. Leftists can’t believe anyone would seriously elect an ordinary moron to the highest office in the land, instead of a superman. The same goes for McCain. Despite his wealth, people believe he would make the same decisions as an ordinary American.

    The election comes down to whether people think of themselves as electing a superior person, someone who will make different and better decisions than ordinary Americans, or whether they think of electing someone who would make the same decisions that an ordinary American would make. 

    [Update:(2008.9.18.13:51): Sometimes, it falls right into your lap. Read this before reading the long version]

    Long version…

    Leftists simply cannot understand why people say they find leftist elitist. For the contemporary American left, who remain mired in 19th-century European political thought, a person becomes an elitist only by virtue of possessing wealth. The comments from the Left on this Riehl World View post [h/t Instapundit] demonstrate this clearly. 

    The Left simply does not understand a key facet of culture in contemporary America: Elitism isn’t about money. It’s about respecting the beliefs and decisions of others. It’s about believing you are intellectually and morally superior to others. 

    As a thought experiment, take two people, call them Bob and Steve, and make them identical in income, education, religious belief, economic accomplishments, political ideology, core values etc. Say they both have middle-class incomes or less. No one on the Left would call either Bob or Steve elitist. Now, suppose Steve wins the lottery and becomes a multi-millionaire over night. According to the Left, Steve becomes an elitist over the course of that night even though he still thinks the same way as does the non-elitist Bob.

    Now take a second case. Call them John and Bill. In this case, Bill is much richer and better educated than John but they share the same core values, go to the same church, like the same sports/leisure activities (maybe they both like to hunt) etc. Despite their differences in wealth, both John and Bill make the same decisions on most political matters. For example, they both have the same views of abortion, family values, the Iraq war, free-market vs. government, taxes etc. For the non-leftist, Bill is not an elitist because he thinks the same way as John. Bill respects John’s decisions because John makes the same decisions that Bill makes. 

    Now, take a third case. Call them Ted and Dick. In this case Ted and Dick share little in common save they have the same income. They have different values, different religions, different ideologies. On issue after issue they make different decisions. Moreover, Dick and friends never pass up an opportunity to express just how stupid they think Ted is for not thinking as they do. They openly deride Ted for his religion. They mock his ideas about everything from personal values to foreign policy. Ted’s income does not matter to Dick and friends. If Ted has more money than Dick, Dick says that Ted is evil, greedy and exploitative. If Ted has less money, Dick says that Ted is a hapless victim of circumstance and only holds his beliefs and values out of ignorance.

    Obama and the rest of the post-’60s American Left are Dick(s). They think Dick is not an elitist because, like them, Dick seeks to help out poor-Ted in the manner that Dick, not Ted, thinks best. Non-leftists think Dick is a elitist because Dick believes he belongs to a minority that possesses vastly superior decision-making ability as compared to the majority. 

    Obama and the other leftists cannot see their elitism for two reasons. Firstly, post-’60s American leftist thought is heavily crypto-Marxist. In Marxism, income (economic class) defines an individual’s entire intellectual and moral outlook. For a Marxist, a rich and poor person cannot hold the same values. They take it as axiomatic that the rich scorn the values and beliefs of the poor. Needless to say, in America, the land of the self-made millionaire, where those same millionaires brag about how poor they were when they started out and pride themselves on holding middle-class values, the Marxist assumptions mean little. (Indeed, they most likely never did, even in Europe.) Yet, still they believe that McCain is an elitist because of his wealth.

    Secondly, Obama and other leftists confuse compassion with respecting the decisions of others. We all deeply love people whose decisions we do not respect. We love children, the elderly in their dotage, the mentally challenged and pets. We love them so much we will lay down our lives for them without hesitation. Yet, because we love them, we feel obligated to override the decisions they make and substitute our own decisions at any time we decide it best to do so.

    Obama and friends view themselves as the only adults in a world of children. All these children blunder through life making all kinds of stupid decisions and doing childishly cruel things. These children desperately need adult supervision. Obama and friends see it as their obligation to care for these “children” and to force them to grow up into “adults” using the violent force of the state.  

    They cannot hide this belief in their own superior ability. When Obama made his comment on people in rural areas “clinging to God, guns and fear of people unlike them” he wasn’t being intentionally mocking or cruel. He was an adult explaining to other adults why those “children” behaved (voted) the way they did. He thought he was being understanding and compassionate. He and other leftists cannot honestly understand why anyone would resent the remark.

    Palin galvanized and polarized the election and in doing so brought leftist elitism into stark relief. Non-leftists like Palin for the same reason leftists hate her, i.e., she seems like an accomplished, but otherwise ordinary, American. Many Americans, regardless of income, race, sex etc. see themselves in her. They can imagine that if things went a little differently, they could have been the ones on the podium. Leftists hate Palin because of her ordinary nature. The leftist seeks to elect a superior person, someone more intelligent and moral than the majority. This desire explains their obsession with educational and other credentials. They want someone who has traveled the world, who speaks many languages and who has many ideas and beliefs that ordinary Americans never thought of.  

    Now we can see the distillation of the difference in attitude between the Obama/Biden ticket and the McCain/Palin ticket. Obama/Biden say, “Vote for us and we will honestly do what we, with our superior intellects and morality think is best for you”. Conversely, McCain/Palin say, “Vote for us and we will make the same decisions you would make if you, personally, got elected to the presidency”. 

    Vote McCain, and you’re hiring a proxy, someone you appoint to make the same decisions you would. Vote Obama and you’re selecting a paternity figure, someone to take make decisions for you. 

    This election you get to decide what kind of society you see yourself living in. If you see yourself as an adult in a nation of children, vote Obama. If you see yourself as a child that needs care, vote Obama. If you see yourself as an adult in a world of adults and you just want another adult to do the same job you would in their shoes, vote McCain. 

    Until leftists can say, “I respect the decisions of ordinary Americans”, and make ordinary Americans believe it, they face an uphill battle in national elections.

     

    34 Responses to “Explaining Elitism to Leftists”

    1. MD Says:

      A related topic, I think, is practical experience (say in running a business) vs. credentialism (academic credentials such as a degree in economics).

    2. david foster Says:

      A related issue, as MD suggests, is the increasing preferment given to theory-based knowledge over experience-based tacit knowledge. For example: a mortgage/CDO meltdown was set up in part by the assumption that quantitative methods could accurately predict:

      a)the probability that an individual borrower would successfully pay his mortgage
      b)the behavior of a pool of mortgages

      The tacit knowledge of experienced loan officers was devalued, and great credence was placed in the models developed by various PhDs and MBA…often, by executives who really didn’t understand the models but were impressed by the expertise.

      And theory-based knowledge in matters of government is generally *much* less reliable than theory-based knowledge in finance, which is in turn (except for formal accounting) less reliable than that in fields like civil engineering.

      C S Lewis, in That Hideous Strength, describes his sociologist protagonist:

      “..his education had had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than the things he saw. Statistics about agricultural laboureres were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer’s boy, was the shadow…he had a great reluctance, in his work, to ever use such words as “man” or “woman.” He preferred to write about “vocational groups,” “elements,” “classes,” and “populations”: for, in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.”

      See my post the dictatorship of theory.

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      David Foster,

      A related issue, as MD suggests, is the increasing preferment given to theory-based knowledge over experience-based tacit knowledge.

      This is an attribute of elite classes attempting to preserve meritless status. One can look back in the history of science in which “educated” people debated classics e.g. Aristotle while people from the lower classes actually engaged in empiricism.

      People who depend on their rank in some type of hierarchy shun the testing of their ideas.

    4. jdm Says:

      This is an attribute of elite classes attempting to preserve meritless status.

      This isn’t quite correct. Or perhaps, I misunderstand.

      I recently happened to become tuned in to elitism. Or rather the language of elitism.

      At least half of the engineers and/or programmers with whom I work – many of whom are talented and deserving of merit – have an elitism problem (as defined here). I have not detected more than a random coincidence of talentless hacks and elitism.

      I have, in fact, been surprised at an unexpected relationship between so many talented (merit’ed) people and elitist behavior. And not only engineers, but also medical and legal people… especially lawyers.

      Interestingly, I find that many are or become [Ll]eftist and then, later, acquire the trappings of elitism. By that I mean, they are either raised or become leftist early on and then, for a variety of reasons the elitism arises.

      … er, sorry, I’ve rambled a bit. This subject interests me quite a bit.

    5. Shannon Love Says:

      jdm,

      There are actually elitist groups i.e. a minorities of unusual skill and capability in many fields and especially in technical fields. I have no such problem with such people claiming to be elites in a specific domain.

      The problem you describe comes from people assuming that because they are elites in a specific field that that in turn means they are an all around superior human being. That is not true. Once we exit our area of speciality, we turn into ordinary people.

      As Richard Feynman once observed, we spend most of our time talking about things that humans, singularly and collectively, do not understand. We understand physics so only a few people can actually discuss physics. We don’t understand how best to politically organize our society so we spend a great deal of time talking about that.

      Leftist elitism is based on the idea that leftist hold special knowledge about unknowable things. At some point, they begin to behave like priest-caste. We’re supposed to respect an individuals opinions because they wear the proper regiments indicating they belong to the caste.

    6. Ginny Says:

      I’m not sure how much on topic or off topic this is, but let’s face it – elitism that turns off others is generally bad manners: condescension, rudeness, bullying others with your knowledge or money or fame. Assurance of your expertise need not be demonstrated by these bad manners unless a) someone else is pretending to an expertise they don’t have and you need to assert your expertise or b) you are a jerk.

      Some expertise is gained through work in a field with little human contact; nerds can be pleasant but they can also come off as elitists. That is because they really are smart and they really are good at what they do, but they don’t often rub shoulders with others. Their experience has been that most people don’t know as much as they do about the subject on which they spend most of their energy & time, so they tend to (rightly but narrowly) assume anyone new is relatively ignorant. In addition, they haven’t been required to keep their people skills up to snuff.

      That is a very different kind of “elitism” than that of the liberal arts or social science intelligentsia. Some academic elitism arises from people who have control of a captive audience on a regular basis and easily fall into the mode of pontificating (unfortunately this moves over into things about which they have not spent ten or more years studying intensely but rather don’t even have a common sensical understanding).

    7. david foster Says:

      “If you see yourself as an adult in a nation of children, vote Obama. If you see yourself as a child that needs care, vote Obama. If you see yourself as an adult in a world of adults and you just want another adult to do the same job you would in their shoes, vote McCain”

      There’s an old pop-psychology model that categorizes people as “parents,” “adults,” or “children,” corresponding very vaguely with superego, ego, and id. It does seem that “progressives” are generally more interested in playing parent or child roles than in adult roles.

    8. Sean F. Says:

      Yes, elitism is what is ruining the country today. Yes, indeedy. And thank you for that highly illuminating discourse on my elitist nature as an effete, smug, know-it-all leftist. The dazzling erudition and perspicacious observations of your post leave me speechless!

      Damn! There I go using that Ivy League undergraduate and elite law school education again. Stupid old me. Education, ability and accomplishment don’t matter – it just gives me these unwarranted feelings of superiority. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa! Mea Maxima Culpa!!!

    9. mishu Says:

      Sean, please reread Ginny’s response to this post and think about how it may apply to you.

    10. James R. Rummel Says:

      “Leftists hate Palin and non-leftists like her for the same reason: She represents a wide swath of Americans. She’s not a superman.”

      She came from decidedly non-privileged background, rose to what is arguably the highest elected position in her state, runs marathons, and did it all while raising a tussle of kids. She even helped provide for her family by working on her husband’s fishing boat, and arctic fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world!

      Compared to the average Liberal, I would have to say that she is superhuman!

      But then we would have to assume that the average Liberal is the default setting for humans, and I consider them to be a rather sickly and weak strain of the breed.

      James

    11. sol vason Says:

      Elitists pretend to be intelligent. They put down IQ tests as culturally biased so that there is no way to know if they are intelligent. They dismiss bad grades as the result of racism, sexual harassment, class warfare, regional bias, personal grudges or simple stupidity. They avoid explaining their opinions by telling their listeners that he/she is not smart enough to understand them.

      I have discovered, after years of research, that there are only 1% of the people in the top 1%. No matter how hard you look, there are only 1% in the top 1%. However, far more than 1% of the US population claim membership in this top 1% elite. I have yet to find a single person who claims membership who is smart enough to be in the top 1%.

      People who claim to be elite but are too dumb to belong to the top 1% have these characteristics
      1. They use big words when little ones are better
      2. They brag about their degrees
      3. They refuse to explain their ideas because “you would never understand it”
      4. They say that Bush is stupid
      5. All their opinions are fashionable
      6. They drop names of philosophers faster than birds drop droppings

      On the other hand people in the top 1% usually never mention it and often deny it.
      1. They delight in explaining an opinion, unless the listener won’t listen
      2. They never brag about degrees
      3. They get the grades they want – neither more nor less
      4. Their opinions are their own and occasionally are fashionable
      5. They are creative, humorous, and often memorable.
      6. If you ask them a question they will give you answer – if you ask if the answer is correct, they will give an honest evaluation of the how likely the answer is correct. It was a 1%er who created the terms WAG and SWAG.
      7. Some are leaders, very few are followers

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      Sean F,

      Damn! There I go using that Ivy League undergraduate and elite law school education again. Stupid old me.

      So your elite law school education gives you a better knowledge of say, climatology, than I who was educated as a biologist at a state school? I don’t think so. In my experience, my scientific knowledge, minor though it is compared to actual scientist, dwarfs that of even the most “well educated” in the humanities.

      No one is arguing that an elite education might make you a better decision maker in a particular field of endeavor. If I had to chose between two lawyers and knew nothing about them save their education, then I would choose the one who went to the “best” school. However, being a very good lawyer does not make one an all around superior human being.

      Leftist believe themselves, individually and collectively, globally superior to the rest of humanity in all things. Leftist with advanced degrees in, say critical theory, who can barely add nevertheless think they understand how high finance or the petroleum industry works to the degree that they can decree how to politically manage them.

      Education, ability and accomplishment don’t matter –

      In the end, education and “ability” do not matter. Only accomplishments matter. You think that we should listen and obey you because you’ve performed certain rituals. We think we should listened to you because you’ve actually done something worth while. After all, look at all those drones of rich families that got into the Ivy League with legacies. Are we supposed to kowtow to their brilliance because they have a sheet of paper from a college with a good reputation?

      -it just gives me these unwarranted feelings of superiority.

      Having an “elite” education just means you’ve been indoctrinated in the self-serving world view of elite du jure. Back in the mid-1600’s people with elite educations prattled about Aristotle while mocking those who actually tried to understand nature with experimentation. I think we have the same social dynamic working today.

    13. steve Says:

      Shannon, 2 things.

      1) excellent quote by Feynman…I am curious about his other writings… know of any?
      2) “In the end, education and “ability” do not matter. Only accomplishments matter.” Defining accomplisments can be tricky….the public tends to scew our collectvie perception on who or what is to be considered accomplished. I am curious to hear how you define someone who is said to be accomplished?

    14. MD Says:

      And, sidestepping Steve, because I was making a different point in my first comment above (and, I’m not unfamiliar with Ivy League places, juat, sidestepping the conversation Steve and Shannon Love are having….)

      Says Bill Whittle in NRO: “And by reminding ourselves and those around us of who we are, where we came from, what we have achieved together and of the marvels we have yet to achieve, we may laugh in the face of despair and mock those people that think a man with an MBA from Harvard knows more about running a gas station than the man that actually runs the gas station.” Okay, that’s an exaggerated statement, for effect, but, I think it relates to what I was saying in my comment above, and is tangentially related to the point being made in this post, I think.

      Food for thought, anyway. I think this speaks to humility – so that the credentialed and educated and scholastic person, who has humility, will understand that he or she doesn’t know everything simply because they understand some things very well. Also, it may not be the place of that credentialed and educated and scholastic person to make certain decisions, even if they think their decision making abilities are greater.

      Okay, done playing for now. I seem to be having a lot of fun commenting here at Chicagoboyz, lately…it’s really fun to play around with ideas like this, isn’t it?

    15. MD Says:

      Sigh, so many thinks and thoughts in my comment above. Really time to stop playing around in the comments section….

    16. Ginny Says:

      MD, Your point seems good to me, but even if humility is only a very thin patina it’s the core of good manners. More deeply felt, it’s the face of inquiry. It’s not a strength of mine, but it is both morally admirable & a useful tool. Franklin (again) argues that its facade let him argue more adroitly. His autobiography follows his growth from a bumptious young Turk to a self-deprecating old man; as the latter he managed some quite useful diplomatic strategies.

    17. Shannon Love Says:

      Steve,

      1) excellent quote by Feynman…I am curious about his other writings… know of any?

      Most of his stories come form his two autobiographical works, “Surely, you must be Joking, Mr. Feynman”and “What do you care what other people think?” Several of essays are available on line.

      I am curious to hear how you define someone who is said to be accomplished.

      Standards vary from field to field. Its pretty easy to tell objectively if a scientist or engineer is good but as you move away from technical fields it becomes progressively more difficult. One can define a business man a good if he makes money long term. A politician is good if the people keep re-electing him. A lawyer is good if he wins cases. Of course, in the latter three examples, people can fake it for years before being caught.

      When you get to matters in humanities, accomplishment becomes utterly subjective and strictly a matter of convention and popularity within a field. In the academic humanities, accomplishments mean nothing more than reinforcing established consensus within a particular field.

      Rule of thumb: The more difficult it is to know with certainty when someone is wrong, the more nebulous the definition of their accomplishments becomes.

    18. Sean F. Says:

      Shannon,

      >> So your elite law school education gives you a better knowledge of say, climatology, than I who was educated as a biologist at a state school? I don’t think so. In my experience, my scientific knowledge, minor though it is compared to actual scientist, dwarfs that of even the most “well educated” in the humanities.

      I make no claims to any expertise in climatology beyond being able to spell the word. I’m not sure of the extent of your scientific knowledge; I know very little biology but, as a former engineer, have a reasonably good foundation in mathematics and physics. What I do claim is that learning, knowledge and experience do make a difference in the real world. Being able to see Russia does not endow Palin with the same foreign policy skills as Biden.

      >> Leftist believe themselves, individually and collectively, globally superior to the rest of humanity in all things. Leftist with advanced degrees in, say critical theory, >>who can barely add nevertheless think they understand how high finance or the petroleum industry works to the degree that they can decree how to politically manage them.

      The one thing I can say about leftists, or at least the ones I know, is that we don’t presume to tell conservatives what their beliefs are. History has shown that sweeping assumptions about other people that are not grounded in empirical data generally turn out to be wrong. Also, we make no claims to be telepaths and even less do we put words in other people’s mouths. Instead, we try to be part of the reality-based community. Reality is often uncomfortable and challenging, but experience has shown that ideology is an inferior substitute.

      >>In the end, education and “ability” do not matter. Only accomplishments matter. You think that we should listen and obey you because you’ve performed certain rituals. We >>think we should listened to you because you’ve actually done something worth while. After all, look at all those drones of rich families that got into the Ivy League with >>legacies. Are we supposed to kowtow to their brilliance because they have a sheet of paper from a college with a good reputation?

      Actually, education and ability do matter. They tend to enable accomplishments for those of us who are not especially lucky or are not geniuses. I don’t think you should “listen” or “obey” me at all – least of all because of my credentials. I do think you should be less eager to ascribe negative attributes, such as a sense of superiority, to those whose political views differ from your own. As a practical matter, it is both easy and tempting to do so — and, quite often, incorrect. As a moral matter, check for the the mote in your own eye. See, also, the psychological definition of “projection.”

      >>Having an “elite” education just means you’ve been indoctrinated in the self-serving world view of elite du jure. Back in the mid-1600’s people with elite educations >>prattled about Aristotle while mocking those who actually tried to understand nature with experimentation. I think we have the same social dynamic working today.

      Again, don’t be so quick to make judgments about others. Frankly the one thing an elite education has given me is self-confidence. I’m less likely to be impressed with credentials and more likely to look at the individual. Also, I don’t particularly care about whether other people feel superior to me or not – I only care about, in the case where they might, whether the feeling is justified.

      Your analogy to the mid-1600’s doesn’t work. Are you saying that, for example, that Newton did not have an “elite” education? He was the top student at his prep school and then went to Cambridge. He may not have cared for Aristotle, but then he was destined to be a scientist, not a classicist or philosopher. If you mean that liberals are overrepresented at elite schools, you are correct, at least in my experience. There isn’t any “indoctrination” going on though, they’re overrepresented in the incoming student body. I’m not sure why.

      >> Rule of thumb: The more difficult it is to know with certainty when someone is wrong, the more nebulous the definition of their accomplishments becomes.

      I agree with the sentiment. Having said that, neither their accomplishments nor the definition of their accomplishments become *nebulous* (usually defined as: lacking definite form or limits) – they just become less *certain*. (BTW this bit of pedantry does not, in any way, make me feel superior; I just like to quibble about words given half a chance!)

    19. jdm Says:

      Interesting small holes in an otherwise solid set of arguments. This one I found interesting.
      Being able to see Russia does not endow Palin with the same foreign policy skills as Biden.

      I don’t think that Gov. Palin has any particular foreign policy skills, but I don’t see that some senator from Delaware has any more of these skills. And both, Palin certainly, are endowed (odd word you chose) with the exact same amount of foreign policy skills as O!

      What that man gets away with…

    20. joe Says:

      A quicker explanation of accomplished.
      http://xkcd.com/451/

    21. Chris Says:

      “The one thing I can say about leftists, or at least the ones I know, is that we don’t presume to tell conservatives what their beliefs are. History has shown that sweeping assumptions about other people that are not grounded in empirical data generally turn out to be wrong. Also, we make no claims to be telepaths and even less do we put words in other people’s mouths. Instead, we try to be part of the reality-based community.”

      What a load of unwarranted hogwash. A quick perusal of the biggest lefty blogs contradicts your statements so utterly that it’s astonishing you would even put forth such an assertion. Leftists who make this claim are reality-based the same way Velveeta is cheese-based.

      “I do think you should be less eager to ascribe negative attributes, such as a sense of superiority, to those whose political views differ from your own. As a practical matter, it is both easy and tempting to do so — and, quite often, incorrect. As a moral matter, check for the the mote in your own eye. See, also, the psychological definition of “projection.””

      That’s pretty audacious coming from someone whose first response to the assertions made was the intellectual equivalent of a middle-school taunt, without anything of substance in the way of refutation.

      “Frankly the one thing an elite education has given me is self-confidence. I’m less likely to be impressed with credentials and more likely to look at the individual.”

      Is this why your initial response focused solely on your academic achievements and not your inidividual qualities?

    22. Shannon Love Says:

      Sean F,

      What I do claim is that learning, knowledge and experience do make a difference in the real world.

      What you should be asking as an engineer is how do we measure learning, knowledge or experience in political matters.

      I would point out that during the 30’s and 40’s Harvard, Yale and the rest of the ivy league pumped out thousands of dues paying members of the Joseph Stalin fan club and many more fellow travelers. Truman, on the other hand, had a high school education and failed in small business. Of the two, who had the more realistic model of Soviet behavior?

      Being able to see Russia does not endow Palin with the same foreign policy skills as Biden.

      How would you know that you’re wrong in this assertion? You can’t ever know and that is the problem. It is pointless to say that person A is better at foreign policy than person B. Historically, there is no correlation between education or time in institutions (such as the senate) and making correct foreign policy decisions (as judged by history).

      The one thing I can say about leftists, or at least the ones I know, is that we don’t presume to tell conservatives what their beliefs are.

      Leftist political theory in general is nothing but criticism of traditional beliefs of all forms. Leftist dissect everything from economic theory to religion in order to show how everyone but leftist are nuts. See the vast body of Marxist literature for a massive example.

      I, personally, am very interested in political cognition i.e. understanding why person A believes in one ideology and why person B believes in another. I am creating models of cognition inferred from recurrent patterns in many political context.

      Leftist are elitist. The idea that a relatively small number of very smart people should make decisions for everyone lays at the core of virtually every leftist political idea. Their default solution to every problem (except those dealing with sex) is to remove the legal authority to decide from individuals and to invest that authority in the state.

      Again, don’t be so quick to make judgments about others.

      It’s not a quick judgment but rather the fruits of nearly 20 years of thinking about the problem of political cognition.

      Frankly the one thing an elite education has given me is self-confidence.

      Again, an engineer is different than someone educated in the humanities. In the humanities, self-confidence usually just equals hubris because they deal in matters in which one person’s opinion is just as good as another’s i.e. they have the same predictive value.

      He may not have cared for Aristotle, but then he was destined to be a scientist, not a classicist or philosopher

      In Newton’s day, no such distinction existed. The term “scientist” was not coined until the 1840’s and in Newton’s youth even the term “natural philosopher” did not exist. Newton never went to class and neglected his classics studies. He was mocked for doing experiments instead of debating the classic. The story of the birth of science is the story of the empiricist versus the rationalist.

      The same dichotomy exist today. The humanities uses the same basic intellectual techniques that their intellectual ancestors used in the pre-scientific era.

      There isn’t any “indoctrination” going on though, they’re overrepresented in the incoming student body. I’m not sure why.

      Children tend to be leftist because leftism presents simply, immediate solutions to complex problems. Of more interest is the breakdown in political orientation among academics based on self-reporting. In the humanities, studies report that 80-90% of professors report themselves left of center and often very left of center. In engineering, sciences and business the orientations tends to be closer to 50-50%. Clearly, in fields in which objective standards exist, there is greater ideological diversity.

      Frankly, unless you’ve spent a lot of time studying this matter, these patterns I lay out may not be readily apparent to you.

    23. Sean F. Says:

      Shannon,

      I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on your first few points. Although both of believe there are objective indicia of our correctness, there isn’t a basis for discussion of such general points are “Leftist political theory in general is nothing but criticism of traditional beliefs of all forms.” I can say that “Milton Friedman is a fried green elf.” That doesn’t make it true. Without some common ground, we’re just talking past each other.

      >>Children tend to be leftist because leftism presents simply, immediate solutions to complex problems. Of more interest is the breakdown in political orientation among academics based on self-reporting. In the humanities, studies report that 80-90% of professors report themselves left of center and often very left of center. In engineering, sciences and business the orientations tends to be closer to 50-50%. Clearly, in fields in which objective standards exist, there is greater ideological diversity.

      That is interesting. There are many possible explanations as to why academics tend to be left-wing in the United States. A historical one is our long tradition of anti-intellectualism. A psychological one might focus on how academia selects strongly against those who do not question the status quo or are comfortable with commonly accepted explanations. A pragmatic one is that only people who are unconcerned about financial success go in academia, and this self-selection favors liberals.

      I’m not sure the explanation that you favor is the most compelling. For example, mainstream (model-based, not behavioral) economics has objective standards based on the mathematical rigor of the models (outside of their somewhat weak predictive power); that does not prevent most academic economists from being politically liberal despite the best efforts of the Chicago school.

      I have noticed that engineers do tend to be sympathetic to conservative ideologies; note, for example, that engineers are way overrepresented among Islamic radicals in Egypt and the Middle East. Personally, I relate this to the way an engineering education teaches you to think about the world – construct a logical and coherent model, be suspicious of ambiguity and what you don’t understand, look for an overriding principle with explanatory power, only trust what you can measure. This approach works well for the natural world but tends to be a poor fit for human behavior.

      Conversely, fields like liberal arts or the law might encourage “mushy” thinking to some degree – I’ve certainly run across and occasionally produced my fair share – but also encourage humility in the face of the irreducible complexity of the world we live in, something I think Ginny captured well in her post above. Again, this is something that took me years to realize; my first reaction is always to measure and then look at the data. But that approach isn’t a great fit for human institutions or political issues. Isiah Berlin has a great essay on this called “The Sense of Reality.”

      p.s. I disagree that children tend to be leftist. In my experience, they tend naturally to be individualists (or crony capitalists) i.e. “I want as much as possible for myself, that most excellent and deserving person, and (maybe) for my friends.” They need to be taught to share and to consider the welfare of others; this doesn’t happen without good parenting.

    24. David Warner Says:

      It’s warmed over Gnosticism. Meaning, literally “knowingness” (hence agnosticism means “not knowing”). Education research suggests that it’s an artifact of the self-esteem movement that praised kids for being smart (as opposed to doing smart things). These kids grew up to overrate their own intelligence and to avoid anything that might threaten this self-image (such as views dissenting from their own).

      The problem, of course, was most acute among those who were actually the most intelligent growing up, but their risk-averse behavior ended up stunting their growth (especially in wisdom, which depends more upon experience than knowledge does), while those who were not so reinforced as students actually ended up taking more risks and thus learning more in their 20’s and 30’s than the star students, catching up and in some cases surpassing them, especially in wisdom.

      It’s this disconnect between the hares and the tortoises that accounts for the phenomenon you describe.

    25. David Warner Says:

      “Now we can see the distillation of the difference in attitude between the Obama/Biden ticket and the McCain/Palin ticket. Obama/Biden say, “Vote for us and we will honestly do what we, with our superior intellects and morality think is best for you”. Conversely, McCain/Palin say, “Vote for us and we will make the same decisions you would make if you, personally, got elected to the presidency”.”

      While this would be an ironic inversion of the party names, I don’t believe it is accurate in the latter case. McCain/Palin are saying “Look at our record of stopping those who would take decisions away from you, whether out of a misguided superiority or old-fashioned corruption. We want to remove the barriers to your making your own decisions about your own lives. On those decisions only a President can make, we have an extraordinary record of putting the state/country above faction.”

    26. David Warner Says:

      Sean F.,

      “A psychological one might focus on how academia selects strongly against those who do not question the status quo or are comfortable with commonly accepted explanations.”

      Shirley, you can’t be serious. There is no institution in contemporary American society that less often questions its own status quo or is more comfortable with commonly accepted explanations than academia. I’d be tempted to attribute this to Boomer difficulty in coming to terms with their own hegemony, and the aging that implies, if the same were not true for most academies throughout history. It’s an institution reactionary by nature.

      Everyone knows what’s PC. Academics have no clue where the dissent actually comes from. Who’s the more curious?

      “Isiah Berlin has a great essay on this called ‘The Sense of Reality.'”

      From another one:

      “Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance – these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.”

      – Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin

      The positive rights agenda of the contemporary collectivist left and its Democratic Party is exactly at odds with Berlin. Try again.

    27. bobby b Says:

      We can cut to the chase quite quickly here, as I’ve had this conversation with liberal friends who have explained our misperception to me.

      We may see it as a mark of elitism that liberals are so completely unaccepting of the possibility that the thoughts and, indeed, the very thought processes, of others are worthy of consideration, or at least respect, unless they arrive at the same conclusions as their own.

      Conversely, we view an ability to acknowledge the ideas and values of others as having, at least, the merit that should be granted to anything that is a product of the rational intellectual effort of other human beings as a mark of maturity, of open-mindedness, of sufficient ego-security to leave our own intellectual product dangling while reviewing conflicting product fairly.

      But we’ve been wrong all this time.

      My friends have explained that, while as a rule one should be open to other ideas, the rule does not extend to the product of conservative thought, because conservative thought is just stupid.

      (Actually, the first conversation involved the role of religion in governance. My two protagonists were, like me, atheists. To them, any “imposition of religious morality” was idiotic, as there is no god, and the rules that men made up and ascribed to a god were stupid, arbitrary, and, to the extent they had purpose, that purpose was merely to empower the rulemakers.

      I pointed out that I, like them, did not believe that any god existed, but that an awfully long list of brilliant and accomplished thinkers throughout history seemed to very strongly disagree with me, and it would be egoism at its extremes for me to write off religious belief to dumb superstition and wishful thinking, since my evidence was no stronger than theirs.

      No, my friends told me, that was simply dumb of me – you know what’s right, they said, don’t let all of those brilliant fools dissuade you.

      Which told me, right there, much about their views. Maybe children SHOULDN’T be told that they’re just as good as everyone else. Possibly they should be encouraged to PROVE they are, but . . .)

    28. David Warner Says:

      The problem is that they are told that they are better, then they become risk- (and dissent-) averse less that comforting self-image be challenged.

    29. OBloodyhell Says:

      > Obama and the rest of the post-’60s American Left are Dick(s)

      Boy are they dicks.

      Major, grade-A, unrequited and unrepentant dicks.

    30. OBloodyhell Says:

      > At least half of the engineers and/or programmers with whom I work – many of whom are talented and deserving of merit – have an elitism problem (as defined here). I have not detected more than a random coincidence of talentless hacks and elitism.

      Where the hell are you working that you’re encountering engineers and programmers who are on the left?

      Programmers are more uniformly libertarian than any other profession I’m aware of — and engineers, with their own experiences keeping them grounded in the real world, almost never veer leftward.

      The engineering types, I grant, have a tendency towards a measure of elitism — they focus too much on what R.M.Persig described as “Classical” thinking, and fail to grasp that some problems are inherently Zen/Romantic. Thus they discount those on the Left in particular, who tend too much towards the Zen/Romantic approach just as the engineering type go for Classical thought. Both tend to be wrong — but engineers are more likely to just say you’re a fool than to try and actually order you around.

    31. OBloodyhell Says:

      > Yes, elitism is what is ruining the country today. Yes, indeedy. And thank you for that highly illuminating discourse on my elitist nature as an effete, smug, know-it-all leftist.

      No problems, Sean.

      If you need more help, feel free to ask.

      I’m sure we can help you figure out the nature of your problems with being an elitist boob with a massive superiority complex which confuses the value of intellect with the value of wisdom, something which, in most of our experiences, I suspect, is the main thing the left lacks in just about any form at all.

      Along with this notion that superior intellect gives special dispensation to lead, this lack of wisdom is certainly hand-in-hand with some of the greatest problems this country faces.

      Glad to know we could help you begin to grasp this.

      .

    32. OBloodyhell Says:

      > Being able to see Russia does not endow Palin with the same foreign policy skills as Biden.

      No, I think being able to speak without inserting a second foot into her mouth might be a more apt measurement of that area.

      And, as someone who appreciates women, I grasp that dealing with a squabbling pack of kids, as well as a squabbling pack of government officials, might grant more indoctrination into those skills than you are granting, based on a presumption that experience can only come from one source.

      “Equal”? maybe not. But I’ll trust her to cut to the chase a lot more correctly than a two-bit political hack with nothing more at interest than his own political survival. And she’s the VEEP, not the PotUS — she’s got time to learn and earn her chops in that regard… unlike the guy on the other side, whose absolute lack of experience is not going to have any sort of learning curve associated with it. If elected, he’s going to start out screwing up, and we’re going to bear the brunt of that.

      Mark my words:
      Obama gets elected, he will be the worst PotUS since Jimmy Carter (worse, even), and will utterly and completely screw up not just the economy, but also foreign policy as well.

      There will be multiple large-scale terrorist attacks on US soil, with a confused, unfocused, and dithering response, which will be utterly ineffective in deterring any subsequent attacks.

      The economy will tank to the worst it’s been since the Depression.

      And the USA will be regarded as the paper tiger we were in the 1970s.

      Obama will not last more than four years, and the stench of his performance will dog blacks with political aspirations for decades to come.

      And you can BANK on that.

    33. jdm Says:

      Where the hell are you working that you’re encountering engineers and programmers who are on the left?

      At the risk of responding as this post sinks slowly off “page one”…

      In my opinion, unverifiable unfortunately, you don’t know enough then.

      And many Libertarians (especially those that hang around Reason) often times have the same elitism problem as the Left because neither understands why all the chuckleheads consistently vote against their so-called best interests (as defined by them). Both believe they have arrived at their beliefs because of their high intelligence.

      As Reagan so eloquently put it although it applies to Libertarians as well, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

    34. gail Says:

      Well, where to begin:
      1. In true W form, anyone with views to the left of the neoconservatives is automatically a “leftist”. How convenient. Do you really think the world is divided into A or B?
      2. Who has done the accusing wrt being “elitist”? These accusations don’t come from mainstream Americans, they come from Karl Rove, Fox TV, Rush, Malkin, and friends. These friends are happy to tell mainstream America that they are being looked down on by the “elitist left”, but in fact it is really Rove and Fox and Rush who are making patsys out of them by filling their heads with this bunk.
      3. Thus, reading this blog and others like it, if you are not a neocon and you are educated enough to have read how fascist regimes take control, you must be discredited before Joe Six-pack hears your arguements and thinks “oh, that might make sense”.
      4. Thus, propagandizing Fox and Rush etc audiences about the “elitist left” serves to rile up prejudice against them before they even have a chance to speak. Mission accomplished – populace is immunized from the thoughts of those whose personal contribution to society is to be well versed in history.
      5. This is a tried and true way that fascist regimes take power – they target the people who have read enough history to see how fascists regimes take power and “neutralize” them.
      6. If you are gullible enough to think that the neocons won’t start a whispering campaign against a President McCain’s “senior moments” to get him out and their puppet Palin in, I have a bridge to sell you. But then, I am gathering that is what you are hoping for.
      7. You already already elected a prez because he seemed to care about the things you did, he seemed to have down home sense, and well, what difference did it really make if he was unread and ignorant on world affairs – he shared your values on abortion. How’d that one work out for you? Are you really going to do it twice?